A quick scan of any preschoolers’ bedroom reveals a magical realm of characters and creatures. If play is the work of childhood, then most kids toil industriously, extrapolating meaning from the world around them as they inhabit their heroes’ identities. Their world of make believe is enchanting. So enchanting in fact, that it can lead us as parents to wonder how the specific fictional heroes our children are drawn to—storybook princesses, comic book superheroes, cartoon characters—help to construct their view of themselves, and their place in society. As most parents filter the content—and associated merch—their children are exposed to during their formative years, may I suggest that a worthy hero should:
- Enforce, not oppose, your family’s values. We all construct value systems in a slightly different way, but perhaps the simple consistency of any system is what gives children a sense of security. Media is a great tool to reinforce these consistent values.
- Embody imperfection and redemption. We all make mistakes, we all experience failure. It’s how we react to these shortcomings and how we overcome them that defines our character. Media figures who learn and grow in the process of dramatic events show kids the value of accountability and the possibility of redemption.
- Exemplify meaningful interactions with others and involvement in society. We are all born into some sort of family unit, and we all function as part of a larger community that can be strengthened by our contributions to it. The best fictional and real heroes use their skills to enrich the lives of those around them.
Using these criteria, let’s rethink the two most common groups of heroes that kids are exposed to—superheroes and princesses—and appraise their influence and value in our kids’ world.